What is misophonia? Certain noises irritate everyone – noisy chewers, keyboard tapping or the classic nails down a blackboard – but this condition means certain noises can evoke strong emotional and physical reactions in sufferers.

silver-colored earrings
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What is misophonia?

Misophonia is a disorder described by the British Tinnitus Association as a “strong emotional response to the presence or anticipation of a sound”. The word literally translates as “hatred of sound”.

Misophonia is most commonly triggered by human-generated noises such as foot tapping, chewing or even breathing. The 42 participants in a 2013 study found their misophonia was triggered by eating-related noise (81%), loud breathing (64.3%) and typing on a keyboard or clicking a pen (59.5%). Some participants even experienced reactions to seeing something associated with a repetitive noise, such as someone rocking their leg.

Typically the reactions can be categorised as disgust, anxiety or, most commonly, anger. These intense emotional reactions can escalate to a level that disrupts day-to-day activity and are often accompanied by physical symptoms, which can include:

  • Pressure in the body (especially the chest)
  • Muscle tightness
  • Blood pressure increase
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Raised temperature
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What causes misophonia?

As there are similarities with tinnitus (ringing in the ears), it’s believed misophonia is caused by an excess of connections between the parts of the brain that deal with sound and emotions.

A study carried out in 2017 used MRIs (among other tests) to look at how the brains of those with misophonia reacted when exposed to triggering stimuli. It found increased activity in the anterior insula cortex – the area of the brain associated with emotions.

Additionally, while the stimuli were present there were changes in the way that area of the brain interacted with the parts responsible for processing and regulating emotions.

Can the disorder be treated?

Although the condition can’t be cured, there are ways it can be managed. Common treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling to try to remove negative associations with triggering noises.

Then there’s tinnitus retraining therapy, which attempts to raise tolerance to certain noises. The symptoms can often be reduced by wearing headphones or earplugs to reduce background noise.

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For more information on misophonia, check out Misophonia International.

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